A couple of months ago I began work on a project currently running at the Speke Resort Munyonyo – a summit called ‘Innovation Africa’.
This is NOT public relations for the event because, frankly, they don’t need it – they already have their participants in the rooms, the relevant transactions are being made left, right, centre, and I hope Uganda benefits from the event as other African countries have done previously.
Rwanda hosted last year’s summit and bagged a project assembling computers/laptops within their borders which will help supply their (and maybe ours, one day) ‘One Laptop Per Child’ project. The project came before the summit, but their hosting preparations helped.
What’s prompting me here are two things – my interaction in a small room with Education State Minister Sandy Stevens Tickodri-Togboa, and the nomenclature of education ministries across Africa.
Starting with Prof. Tickodri-Togboa, when he was appointed Minister we celebrated because we knew him to be technical and were aware of his involvement in the Kiira EV Project.
That project is not a white elephant, as some people scoffingly claimed when it was unveiled; whereas we do not produce steel and the other bits that make car manufacturing a short-term viability, the process of interrogating, researching and attempting this project helps boost local innovation.
Allowing and empowering students to think big enables them to aim high even though they might hit low – but if they aimed low then they would hit lower, so the better alternative is obvious.
Due to the Eid public holiday, Prof. Tickodri-Togboa found himself at the centre of the government Press Conference announcing this event and he read up on it quickly, and his blood got racing. In a meeting with a group of us shortly before the Conference he rallied gallantly about the importance of innovation in education, and our national skills development needs.
“As I was flying back last night from China I was thinking about how many toys we import from that continent into this country. Why are we not making our children here manufacture those toys? They are just bits of plastic and wiring that jump about and make noises…” he pondered, jet-lagged, rather irritated and frustrated.
I like it when a government official in a position of authority gets irritated and frustrated by something such as this – his boss is often to be found in this mood as well, which is why Prof. Tickodri-Togboa was appointed in the first place.
He told us, thereafter, how his own children spent so many hours taking apart toys and other pieces of equipment in their home that he was not surprised when they ended up studying advanced sciences in universities in South Africa and what not.
“I still haven’t cleaned up their bedrooms!”
Which made me think wistfully about some children in my neighbourhood who I found wheeling about toys fashioned from empty splash boxes and Safi bottles, with twigs for axles and chokolo (soda bottle tops) for wheels.
It made me sad to see that in 2015, when I had done the same back in the 1980s. But then it made me happy that they were as industrious today as we were back then. (Still, I hurried home and emptied a toybox on the verandah of their muzigo…but told them and their mother not to stop making toys of their own).
They were still pushing their makeshift toys at the start of this week, and I was pleased. And I thought about them that same night as I perused the list of African ministries of education, because that is where, perhaps, we should start our spurring of innovation on this continent.
When Prof. Tickodri-Togboa was appointed, the Ministry of Education and Sports was renamed Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Sports.
Considering how well we do at Sports these days, that docket should be made substantive and separated from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, which itself needs renaming – and I hope we append ‘Innovation’ to it.
Not that names mean anything, unless one does some research into what these countries actually produce by way of innovation and skills, but here are the words other African countries use:
Skills (Botswana), Literacy (Burkina Faso), Scientific Research (Burundi, Cameroon & Congo Republic), Technological Innovation (Congo Republic) Vocational Education (DRC), Science & Technology (different from Education – Ethiopia), Science, Technology & Research (Lesotho, South Africa, Tanzania), Science & Technology (Gambia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique & Sierra Leone), Technology, Communication & Innovation (Mauritius), Human Development (Mozambique), Higher Education, Training & Innovation (Namibia), Higher Education & Research (Senegal), Higher Education, Scientific Research & ICT (Tunisia), Education, Science & Vocational Training (Zambia).
Over, now, to Professor Tickodri-Togboa, the people in charge of naming ministries, the teachers, and parents who should encourage their children to take stuff apart and learn to rebuild it.
Education needs to be taken apart so that we can do some innovation.